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People who flocked to Beach Party (1963) and its sequels back in the day remain in general agreement that the franchise jumped the shark with Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), the fourth in the series, the one "with the mermaid." Of course, American International Pictures' six-part rejoinder to Paramount's Elvis vehicles was guilty of outr flourishes as early as the surfing chimpanzee in Bikini Beach (1964), while the unrelated Pajama Party (1964) added a visiting Martian to the mix. With the aforementioned shark summated, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965) explodes said predator into a rain of chum nuggets. The penultimate Beach Party romp begins with a wacky framing device in which Navy noncom Frankie bribes a South Seas witch doctor (Buster Keaton) to cook up a juju potent enough to allow him a remote view of girlfriend Dee Dee (Annette Funicello) while he's serving his country and servicing island girl Irene Tsu. The series' capitulation to increasingly preposterous plot turns was a sign of the times. The sun was setting on AIP's profitable "breeding frenzy." Cast members were growing older and too popular for skinflint producers James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff. Sun, sand and "bare as you dare" were not going to keep teenagers in seats indefinitely, leaving director William Asher to go full throttle with this, the last chapter before he, Frankie and Annette abandoned ship and the series was declared dead in the water with The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966).
The AIP machine was nothing if not well-oiled and principal photography on How to Stuff a Wild Bikini was completed in the requisite fifteen days by Asher and Director of Photography Floyd Crosby (father of legend-in-the-making David Crosby). Atypically, the roster of songs (11 of them, the most heard in any of the series titles) were incorporated into the narrative rather than presented as show-stopping stand-alone numbers. The decision may not have been wholly creative, as many of Asher's cast members this time around were known more for their character work than their vocal chops. Although none of the principal players has ever, in their respective autobiographies, described the production as troubled, neither was it carefree. A few months into her first pregnancy, Annette Funicello was depressed over the absence of friend and costar Frankie Avalon (off shooting the space race spoof Sergeant Dead Head, 1965). Ousted from Walt Disney Studios when it was disclosed that he was gay, Pajama Party's Tommy Kirk was signed to fill Frankie's shoes but was sidelined by a marijuana bust days before shooting began. (The well-publicized arrest also cost Kirk a plum role in The Sons of Katie Elder that year.) AIP replaced Kirk with Dwayne Hickman, second lead in AIP's Ski Party (1965). The deftly comic Hickman acquits himself well as a self-deprecating Frankie surrogate but had to be dubbed for all his duets with Annette.
Plagued by IRS debts, Mickey Rooney picked up a quick $5,000 for a week's work on How to Stuff a Wild Bikini as a Madison Avenue suit infiltrating the Malibu scene. (Rooney took the low-paying bit against the advice of his personal manager, who subsequently dropped the actor as a client). According to Hickman, Rooney's unsolicited acting lessons between takes caused tension between the two, culminating in Hickman protesting to William Asher and a chuffed Rooney giving Hickman the silent treatment for the duration of the shoot. His fortunes lost to divorce settlements and dying of the lung cancer that would kill him in less than a year, Buster Keaton puts on a brave (stone) face as the Polynesian hoodoo man. Thinking that his younger costars had no idea of his contributions to movie history, Keaton spent his downtime self-exiled to a corner of the set in the company of third wife Eleanor.
Given very little to do this time out, series regulars John Ashley and Jody McCrea both went on to grittier fare; while Ashley starred in and produced a number of gnarly horror films in the Philippines (and later finagled himself an associate producer credit on Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now in 1979), McCrea turned up among the pug ugly ensembles of Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee (1965) and the biker flick The Glory Stompers (1968). Featured in all of the Beach Party movies as comic villain Eric von Zipper's right hand, Andy Romano would earn greater cult acclaim as a puzzled parent in Jonathan Kaplan's Over the Edge (1979), a searing indictment of institutional complacency in the face of teen violence. On loan out from Columbia Pictures, Beverly Adams would find greater glory in later years as the wife of hairdresser to the stars Vidal Sassoon. Filling out How to Stuff a Wild Bikini's crowd scenes are Keenan Wynn's son Ned, Brian Wilson (not the Beach Boy but an heir to the Wilson House of Suede and Leather) and pioneer surfers Mikey Dora (James Darren's stunt double in Gidget, 1959), Johnny Fain and Mike Nader (later of Dynasty and All My Children fame), whose prowess on the long board had earned them national acclaim in the September 1961 Life magazine feature "The Mad, Happy Surfers: A Way of Life on the Wavetops." The film's trippy title sequence is the work of Gumby creator Art Clokey, while an unbilled Elizabeth Montgomery (then-wife of writer-director William Asher) turns up towards the end in a bewitching cameo as Buster Keaton's daughter.
Producer: Samuel Z. Arkoff, James H. Nicholson
Co-Producer: Anthony Carras
Director: William Asher
Screenplay: William Asher, Leo Townsend
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Original Music: Les Baxter
Editing: Fred R. Feitshans, Jr., Eve Newman
Costumes: Richard Bruno
Title Designer: Art Clokey
Cast: Annette Funicello (Dee Dee), Dwayne Hickman (Ricky), Brian Donlevy (B.D. McPherson), Mickey Rooney (J. Peachmont "Peachy" Keane), Frankie Avalon (Frankie), Harvey Lembeck (Eric von Zipper), Beverly Adams (Cassandra), John Ashley (Johnny), Jody McCrea (Bonehead), Irene Tsu (Native Girl), Bobbi Shaw (Khola Koku), Andy Romano (J.D.), Michael Nader (Mike), Len Lesser (North Dakota Pete), Alberta Nelson (Puss), Buster Keaton (Bwana), Elizabeth Montgomery (Bwana's daughter), Michele Carey (Michele), The Kingsmen (Themselves).
C-93 minutes. Letterboxed.
by Richard Harland Smith
A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes by Annette Funicello
Sam Arkoff: Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants by Sam Arkoff with Richard Trubo
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Malibu's Lost Boys by Sheila Webber, Vanity Fair August 2006
Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies - The First Wave, 1959 1969 by Thomas Lisanti